In this week’s SN&R, you will find the second installment of a series of pages sponsored by SEIU Local 1000, featuring a column by its president, Yvonne Walker. Last week, before Labor Day, she wrote about the beginning of the labor movement, and this week she writes about economic justice. Walker’s ideas are interesting and thought-provoking. And unlike columnists like me, who are not the head of one of the state’s most powerful unions, Walker’s thoughts have more potential to become public policy.
This series of sponsored pages reminds me of the weekly New York Times ad that American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker wrote during the 1970s to help develop a nationwide dialogue on the importance of public unions and on the education system from the teachers’ perspective. It was a brilliant organizing and educational tool.
Over the last five years, the California Endowment has run a similar educational advertising campaign highlighting the work that nonprofits do as part of the Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities project. These stories increased awareness of the work being done in those communities and attention to those nonprofits doing excellent work in South Sacramento.
These pages have made the paper more interesting, while also providing much needed financial support for SN&R’s journalism, which is greatly appreciated.
In 1973, I began my newspaper career as a labor reporter for a recently formed alternative newspaper in Santa Barbara. Staffers were political activists who believed it was critically important to cover issues such as the labor movement, the Vietnam War, the women’s movement and the civil rights movement—topics mostly ignored by the local mainstream media.
I loved being a labor reporter. One of my favorite stories involved attending a business workshop on how to prevent union drives and then reporting on their sneaky practices. Another favorite involved helping my colleague George Thurlow go through Santa Barbara County death certificates to compare the percentage of workers at the Johns Manville asbestos factory in Lompoc who died of lung cancer to the general public. Spoiler alert: It was much higher.
But without revenue, there cannot be newspapers. In 1973, none of the staff were being paid more than subsistence wages. So I chose to sell advertising to ensure the paper’s survival. And that has been my role here as well—selling advertising that has allowed us to publish tens of thousands of stories in Sacramento, Chico and Reno, telling stories that need to be told.
In 1973, 27% U.S. workers belonged to a union and the top 1% received 9% of all income. In 2017, union membership is just 11% and the top 1% received 21% of all income. There is a correlation to these figures. In these times, with ever-increasing income inequality, increased poverty and decreased worker protections, labor has much to say on critical issues. And I believe that for labor to accomplish its objectives, it needs to make the case to a wider audience.
In the same way that Albert Shanker’s weekly columns in The New York Times brought his ideas to a larger audience, I look forward to bringing Yvonne Walker’s ideas to our 300,000 regular readers.